CORONAVIRUS/Taiwan testing new system for online sale of surgical masks

03/10/2020 08:29 PM
CNA file photo
CNA file photo

Taipei, March 10 (CNA) Starting Thursday, people in Taiwan will have the option of pre-ordering their weekly ration of surgical face masks online and collecting them at designated convenience stores, as the government is rolling out a new purchasing system on a test basis, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said Tuesday.

The new system will be operated on a trial basis for one week, from March 12-18, and people who purchase masks online during that period will be able to pick them up the following week, the CECC said.

The weekly ration of three masks per person will remain in place, but people who do not have the time to line up at drugstores to buy the masks will have an alternative, the CECC said.

To use the online ordering system, consumers will either need to have access to a card reader or will have to download a National Health Insurance Administration (NHIA) app from Google Play or the App Store, according to the CECC.

After logging onto a specific website, consumers with a card reader linked to their computers will be required to insert either their National Health Insurance (NHI) or Citizen Digital Certificate card to place the order for the three masks, the CECC said.

Masks purchased via the website or the NHIA app can be paid for with a credit card, at an ATM or via online banking services, the CECC said, adding the details for making payments will be issued to the buyer upon completion of the online or mobile transaction.

The cost of the masks will remain at NT$5 (US$ 0.16) each, but online purchases will have a shipping fee of NT$7 per order, which means each transaction will total NT$22, according to the CECC.

During the pickup period March 26 to April 1 at designated convenience stores, buyers will have to show their NHI cards or proof of purchase, it added.

The CECC estimated that some 2.33 million people will take advantage of the online sales during the one-week trial period, buying a total 7 million masks.

If the number of buyers exceeds the estimated 2.33 million masks during the trial week, the CECC said, the government will introduce a weekly lottery system to determine who can purchase masks online.

Due to high demand amid the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic, the Taiwan government has been requisitioning all masks produced in the country and rationing them to consumers after supplying hospitals and healthcare workers.

Under the rationing system that began Feb. 6, anyone can buy disposable surgical masks on Sundays at designated drugstores and pharmacies, once they present their NHI cards, while on the other days of the week, sales are staggered based on the last digit of the ID number on the buyer's NHI card.

By digitally scanning the NHI card, pharmacies can see the customer's mask purchasing history, which ensures that the quota of three masks per week per person is being maintained.

However, because of the limited supply and the sales times set by the pharmacies, people have been complaining about the time it takes to wait in queue to buy the masks, and office workers in particular have said it is problematic for them.

With the introduction of the online system, which is based on the existing online taxpaying system, the government is offering an alternative and will make any necessary adjustments after the one-week trial period, according to Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the CECC.

Meanwhile, Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Chang Hung-lu (張宏陸) suggested that the government adjust the online mask purchasing system to allow a single transaction for all members of a household and thus save shipping costs.

In response, Deputy Health Minister Ho Chi-kung (何啟功) said the government will consider the suggestion.

(By Chen Wei-ting, Ku Chuan, Yeh Su-ping and Joseph Yeh)

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